The main purpose of rhetoric is to persuade the audience by presenting the most appealing and strong claims behind the case. For this reason, the presidential election speeches often incorporate a variety of rhetorical strategies to maximize the effectiveness of their impact on listeners. The following essay aims at analyzing Donald Trump’s immigration speech in an attempt to identify the presence of rhetorical elements and determine their purpose and likely impact on the audience.
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The immigration speech was a part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and mostly covered his suggested strategy to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants. As Trump himself stated at the beginning of the speech, the intended format was not a rally speech. Instead, his intent was to “deliver a detailed policy address on one of the greatest challenges facing our country today” (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). However, it is important to note that the actual delivery was different from the stated format. The audience consisted mostly of his electorate and, judging from the reaction of the crowd observed in the video, the majority of the listeners were sympathetic with the content as they reacted positively to the delivery strategies chosen by the speaker. The purpose of the speech was consistent with the common goal of the election campaign speeches – that is, to persuade more listeners to vote for a particular candidate. To be more specific, it was intended to appeal to those who believe that immigration has detrimental effects on the country’s well-being and seek ways to decrease its level.
The speech, inconsistency with other public appearances by Trump, bears a distinct level of credibility often emphasized by him and used to persuade the listeners that he is qualified to speak authoritatively on the matter in question. Most often, the claims made by Trump are supported by his assertions of future success based on the fact that he was previously successful in his business endeavors, thus making use of ethos. While in his immigration speech, he did not explicitly make such claims, it is clear from the reaction of the audience that the assertions such as “Mexico will pay for the wall” are accepted without questioning and lauded (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). This suggests that the audience already holds the speaker in high regard and is familiar with his “credentials.”
The same can be said about the appeal to logos. While it is arguably present in the speech, it takes a distinct shape that does not fit the traditional definition of the strategy. For example, Trump often constructs his suggestions in a form that resembles the strategy backed by decent planning and supported with evidence, such as the intention to build the wall without using the American funds. Since this was a one-directional delivery, his assertion was not challenged by the critical analysis (which often occurs during debates and other forms of a dialog), but previous experience suggests that once it is put to the test, Trump backs it with vague yet emotionally charged claims which do not pose significant logical value. Therefore, logos is the weakest side of the speech, although this may not be apparent given its one-sided nature.
Trump’s utilization of pathos, on the other hand, is prominent throughout the entire speech and, again, displays the characteristic features common for his public presentations. First, he aligns his topics with the feelings of the audience – more specifically, the anger and discomfort with the current immigration rate. Most of the claims made by him either exaggerate or distort the actual picture of effects of immigration – but this matters little to the audience since it is aligned with how they perceive (rather than what conclusions they are able to make on) the topic. For once, his emphasis on zero-tolerance policy towards immigrants who commit crimes against residents of the US aligns well with the feelings of anger, strengthened by a xenophobic effect.
Dividing the group into camps is an inherent trait of human psychology and is often used in the field of politics. Trump is clearly aware of the effect since he uses the following definition: “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens” (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). The term “aliens” is a departure from the accepted politically correct norms but appeals to the bilateral attitudes of the audience. In addition, choosing the adjective “criminal,” which has a distinctively negative connotation, assigns a strong emotional meaning to the assertion, adding to the effect of dichotomy. This particular passage bears another distinct strategy often used by Trump – he repeats the word “zero” twice after the end of the sentence, and one more time after the applause dies down (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”).
This repetition of the key points of his assertions is prominent throughout the speech and has two effects on the listeners. First, it ensures that the idea is firmly embedded in the listeners’ minds, assuring both better comprehension and longer duration of the effect. Second, it builds up the emotional bond between the speaker and the audience. In fact, the use of the word “zero” is indicative of Trump’s usage of repetitions throughout his speeches, as he uses them only after his initial claim is met with approval. He then repeats it to escalate the praise, gives time for the ovation to die down, and makes a final repetition to instill the idea in the minds of already susceptible listeners.
Next, the topics chosen to be highlighted in the speech are the ones that have the biggest potential to trigger strong emotional reactions. For instance, he mentions the cases of Detective Michael Davis and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver, two law enforcement officers killed by a previously deported illegal immigrant (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). The effect of the death of a fellow citizen who is also an officer is strengthened by personifying the victims. These names are already familiar to the people who follow Trump’s campaign since he mentions them often and even named legislation suggested to strengthen the control of immigration the Davis-Oliver bill (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”).
Again, he uses repetition of the keywords, which are the most appealing to the audience by describing the effect of the bill as allowing to identify and remove the immigrants to be removed “swiftly, really swiftly” (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). What’s even more interesting is his use of the false dichotomy to cater to the preconceived notions of the audience. Instead of describing the target audience of the bill simply as “immigrants,” he refers to them as “criminal immigrants and terrorists,” creating a line which separates the population into two categories. Simply put, he implicitly states that a person may be either an immigrant or not, and being one categorizes that person as a criminal and a terrorist.
To further personalize and flesh out the fears held by his intended audience, Trump invites several parents whose children were killed by illegal immigrants. They are given an opportunity to tell their stories, some of which include shocking details such as the nature of wounds suffered by Grant Ronnebeck, shot in the face by the perpetrator (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). This further strengthens the bond with the crowd which usually eagerly sympathizes with the cases where individual loss and grief are prominent.
Finally, the speech, similar to all previous public appearances by Trump, is peculiar in its use of accessible and informal language. Most of the government representatives often ignore this important fact and saturate their messages with official terminology and specific terms intended to emphasize the credibility of the content. Trump does the opposite, which can be observed in his immigration speech. He avoids specific terminology and complex wording, formulating his ideas as clear as possible. Even more importantly, he adds a number of techniques which seem inappropriate for a political campaign, such as cheering the crowd by repeating “Are you ready?” before voicing the already highly anticipated plan to build the wall (“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech”). By doing this, Trump essentially fulfills the core premise of rhetoric – he speaks to his listeners using the figures of speech which are most familiar to them. In the case when he has an entire electorate as his ultimate audience (that is, the entire population of the country), he needs to sound more like a real person than a disconnected official, which he achieves via the described methods.
To conclude, Trump’s immigration speech displays strong reliance on pathos with limited and specific use of ethos and logos. The use of repetitions, manner of language, and acknowledgment of emotional state of the listeners further enhance the emotional connection and result in accessible content with appealing message which invokes strong emotional response in the audience.
“Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech.” New York Times. 2016, Web.